Tag Archives: publishing house

“They” as a Singular Pronoun in Literature

5969704980_63ef52f94a_zRecently, I critiqued a few chapters of a young adult fantasy novel. The chapters were interesting, however I stumbled along what I thought to be a pronoun error. It wasn’t until I talked with the author that I realized he meant to use the plural “they” as a singular pronoun.

In traditional grammar, “they” is plural, and only plural. But “they” is also used as a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun. The transgender community has used “they” for decades in an attempt to create non-gender biased language (the “he” or “she” pronouns).

I’ve since talked to many people about using “they” in the singular. Peoples’ reactions have been mixed, with most individuals being completely unaware of this movement (if you’re not part of the transgender community or don’t know someone who is, it’s not surprising you’d make the same mistake I did while critiquing this young man’s work).

Most people I talked to stated that it was fine to have a gender-neutral term, but that the transgender community should have come up with a new term. Using “they” is too confusing. People automatically assume that you’re talking about a group of people when you use “they” (or in the case of this young man’s story, I thought he was referring to conjoined twins – he wasn’t).

Multiple gender-neutral pronouns have been introduced throughout the years (“thon” and “ze” are a few). None have gained enough popularity to become part of everyday culture, which might explain why “they” is now being used.

However, in terms of writing, using “they” in the singular will make it more difficult to get published. In the editing world, you meet tons of people who are sticklers for traditional grammar. Also, since more people than not are unaware of “they” being using in as a non-gendered singular pronoun, it will appear that the author doesn’t know correct grammar.

“They” can still be used in the singular. But if it’s going to be done, then it must be made clear from the get-go what the author’s intentions are. Authors cannot expect readers to see what they intended. Unfortunately, people cannot read each other’s minds. If readers aren’t made aware of a plural pronoun being used in the singular, they will be confused and will likely not continuing reading.

What do you think?

(Photo courtesy of Paul Townsend.)

Quotes and Rejections: Surviving the World of Publishing

It’s safe to say writing is my passion. I like the act of writing, reading about writing, learning about writing, reading in general, both fiction and non-fiction, adult and young adult. Without writing my life would lack a vital component, but there are times when I don’t feel like writing or I feel like I’m not any good at it. Sometimes I’m tempted to throw down the pen and quit.

Writing isn’t easy. Shelling out an entire novel, revising, getting it critiqued, and revising a few more times is a long process. Then, having to write and revise the synopsis, blurb, and query letter all in the hopes of having an agent declare your book worthy of being published is another arduous step in the very long process of finding a place for your work among the shelves of other published novels.

Sometimes it all just feels futile, like you’re bashing your head repeatedly against a brick wall.

Long_and_Winding_Road_by_anonyms_one

When these moments of futility occur, I turn to quotes by published authors. It helps to know that I’m not alone in this process or feeling like I can’t find the right way to describe something…or that my work is a load of crap that should be burned.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite quotes:

“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or ten pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”
– Lawrence Block

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
– E. L. Doctorow

“You can’t write a novel all at once, any more than you can swallow a whale in one gulp. You do have to break it up into smaller chunks. But those smaller chunks aren’t good old familiar short stories. Novels aren’t built out of short stories. They are built out of scenes.”
– Orson Scott Card

“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
– Ernest Hemingway

“It’s like making a movie: All sorts of accidental things will happen after you’ve set up the cameras. So you get lucky. Something will happen at the edge of the set and perhaps you start to go with that; you get some footage of that. You come into it accidentally. You set the story in motion and as you’re watching this thing begin, all these opportunities will show up. So, in order to exploit one thing or another, you may have to do research. You may have to find out more about Chinese immigrants, or you may have to find out about Halley’s Comet, or whatever, where you didn’t realize that you were going to have Chinese or Halley’s Comet in the story. So you do research on that, and it implies more, and the deeper you get into the story, the more it implies, the more suggestions it makes on the plot. Toward the end, the ending becomes inevitable.”
– Kurt Vonnegut

“We writers are apt to forget that, as the gunsmoke fogs and the hero rides wildly to the rescue, although the background of this furious action is fixed indelibly in our own minds, it is not fixed in the mind of the reader. He won’t see or feel it unless you make him—bearing always in mind that you can’t stop the gunfight or the racing horse to do the job.”
– Gunnison Steele

“First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!”
– Ray Bradbury

“Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.”
– Jim Tully

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
– William Faulkner

“Don’t expect the puppets of your mind to become the people of your story. If they are not realities in your own mind, there is no mysterious alchemy in ink and paper that will turn wooden figures into flesh and blood.”
– Leslie Gordon Barnard

“Don’t be dismayed by the opinions of editors, or critics. They are only the traffic cops of the arts.”

– Gene Fowler

“Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.”
– Leigh Brackett

At times it may seem like published authors were immediately successful. Agents and publishing houses love advertising their wildly successful writers. However, most writers didn’t get an agent after they queried only five agents. They didn’t sell millions of copies of their debut novel. Most authors worked hard and diligently for years and received countless rejections before finding success.

Probably one of the best examples of this is J.K. Rowling. Though she got an agent quickly, she was rejected by almost every publishing house in the UK before her book sold. On top of that, she was told to get a day job because she wouldn’t make any money off of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.”

J.K. Rowling is now a billionaire and one of the most well-known authors in history.

Some other examples:

The “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series received over a hundred rejections. I don’t know about you, but I owned several of those books when I was younger, and the ones I owned were only a few of over a million copies that sold.

C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” spent years getting rejected before it sold. Not only is this series famous, several movies have been made of it.

Dan Brown was told his “The Da Vinci Code” was too badly written to be published. Millions of sold copies and a movie later, he’s doing just fine.

H.G. Wells was told his “The War of the Worlds” was “An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.’” It was published in 1898, is still in print, and was made into a movie both in 1953 and 2005.

The list goes on…

This isn’t so common nowadays with most literary agents preferring email query letters instead of paper, but authors will talk about how they received enough rejections to wallpaper a room or that they have drawers full of rejection letters. Yet, despite being told their work isn’t good enough to be published over and over again, they persisted, and enough they became published.

As Isaac Asimov says, “You must keep sending work out. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.”

Got any quotes on writing or rejection you turn to?

(Photo courtesy of Deviant Art.)

Don’t Sweat It. Love Your Writing.

Often times writers worry about their writing. Worrying in itself isn’t horrible, but sometimes the anxiety and doubt a writer has about his writing takes over. Questions like if his novel is ever going to get published, if he’s going to be successful, or if everything he’s doing is just a big waste of time become predominant. And as those questions and doubt crowd his mind, he may never send out his manuscript or may abandon a work in progress.

Don’t stop writing. Don’t let anxiety and doubt take control. So much of the concern writers get stems from misconceptions.

Forget failure.

  • Failure isn’t the end of the world. Yes, it hurts, but you can move past failure and learn from it. Fitzgerald and Melville both faced multiple failures during their lives, but they’re considered two of the greatest writers of their age.
  • Failure doesn’t mean your work sucks. Just because not everyone loves your writing doesn’t mean you can’t write. There will always be people who love your novel, and others who don’t. Think of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Though Rowling got an agent quickly, twelve publishing houses rejected her novel. It was a year later when she got a publishing house, and even then she was told to get a day job because she’d never make any money being a children’s author.

Failure can sometimes feel like you’re never going to make it. Don’t let it stop you. Keep writing, go to workshops, join a critique group, etc.

Agents and publishers aren’t all knowing.

  • Agents and publishers like to believe they know everything. I’ve even seen some of them say they know what the next bestseller will be. The deals publishing houses make are pretty much a direct correlation with how well they believe your novel will sell. However, publishing history is filled with rejections and huge advances for novels that never sold well. Publishing houses guard their sales statistics, and tend to only share their success stories. The truth is, publishing houses lose money on books every year. And have you looked at some of the authors agents represent? Most of them aren’t wildly successful with bestsellers. If agents and publishers knew the market, they’d all be representing bestsellers.

The bottom line is that the market is unpredictable. Agents and publishers do have experience in the publishing world, but they can’t read readers’ minds and the market is constantly changing.

Every writer, at some point, doubts their work. Anxiety comes with being a writer. The key is to push through despite the worry, and to improve without letting uncertainty get in the way.

Perseverance is the key to success.

How do you deal with anxieties surrounding your writing?